Amended lawsuit renewed in Blunt e-mail case

Monday, August 25, 2008 | 9:13 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A bipartisan pair of prominent attorneys renewed a lawsuit Monday seeking e-mails from Gov. Matt Blunt's office while asserting it has violated Missouri's open-records law.

The amended lawsuit also renews an assertion that someone acting under the control of the governor's office sought to destroy backup e-mail records to avoid complying with a Sunshine Law request by The Associated Press.

The new version of the lawsuit was filed by former Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell and Republican attorney Louis Leonatti. They were appointed by a Cole County judge as assistant attorneys general on the case after Blunt's office objected to the legal authority of a St. Louis lawyer chosen by Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Nixon named an investigative team last fall to look into whether Blunt's office is complying with Missouri's Sunshine Law and document-retention policies. That came after former governor's office attorney Scott Eckersley claimed he was fired after advising the office it wasn't following record-retention laws.

Blunt has acknowledged that he and others routinely delete some e-mails but has denied that the governor's office has violated Missouri's open-records law. The Republican governor's office has repeatedly characterized the Nixon-initiated investigation as political while asserting that its own e-mail deletions are no different than what has occurred in the attorney general's office and elsewhere.

Nixon, a Democrat, is running for governor. Blunt announced in January that he is not seeking re-election.

Last month, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled that Nixon's selected investigator, Mel Fisher, had no legal authority to sue the governor's office on behalf of the attorney general. But the judge subsequently appointed Maxwell and Leonatti to the investigation and delayed the dismissal of the lawsuit to give them time to decide whether to continue or drop the case.

Maxwell, speaking for the duo, said it seemed Fisher's investigation had "been hampered" by the governor's office and its attorneys and determined the case should go forward. They largely adopted the assertions in the original lawsuit filed on behalf of Fisher by St. Louis attorney Chet Pleban.

"Our goal is let's get the facts, let's understand what the policy is in the governor's office and whether or not that policy was followed," Maxwell said.

Neither the governor's office nor its private-sector attorney, former state Supreme Court Judge John Holstein, immediately responded Monday to a request for comment about the lawsuit.


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